Espgaluda (Arcade, PS2) (2003)
Developer: Cave

Review by Faididi and Co.

Gender bender fairy fighter

Story: Above Average

Ageha and Tateha, who are brother and sister, live in a magic fantasy kingdom. Thanks to the Garuda Project, they possess special powers which include sprouting fabulous-looking wings, shooting laser bolts, and, for the weirdest bullshit anime reasons, changing their sex at will (apparently along with their clothing and make-up). When the villainous Shinra forces storm across the land and slay those close to them, the two young heroes must make things right the messy way. The presentation is nice, and there are multiple endings, but all of that pales beside the gender-bending thrills.

Gameplay: Average

Past the giggles and the bad jokes, Cave's Espgaluda is really just a follow-up to Esprade, which itself is a spin-off from the Donpachi series of 2-Player space shooters. Although the heroes are magic-powered teens instead of futuristic starfighters, they fly through 5 vertically scrolling stages, blasting bad guys to hell with their energy shots. Like their counterparts in Esprade, Ageha and Tateha have megabombs in the form of a special attack that renders them invulnerable while unleashing powerful deathrays. In a step back to Donpachi, they can also fire concentrated power shots at the cost of a little speed (relative to the screen).

Besides the fewer playable characters, the spirit-shifting ability is what sets this game apart from its predecessors. By defeating enemies in their standard form, the heroes will build up their shift energy, which can be used to change them into their alternate (and opposite-sex) form, which enhances their own attacks, slows down enemy shots, and converts the remaining projectiles of defeated foes into bonus points. This shifting system may be more challenging to manage than the free secondary attack in Esprade, but it avoids repeating the movement restrictions of the drone system in Guwange.

The level and enemy designs are colorful, although the general medieval fantasy setting doesn't strike the imagination quite like Esprade's modern-day fantasy twist. The lush landscapes and shiny fortresses that serve as the scenery and the soldiers, airships, and winged warriors who make up the bad guys are varied, but they're not particularly memorable.

Controls: Excellent

The controls are responsive. Flying around, firing the different kinds of shots, and working with the shifting ability are all a breeze.

Graphics: Excellent

Keeping in line with Esprade and Guwange, Espgaluda delivers ever more beautiful graphics, with characters who are drawn brightly and smoothly, and with backgrounds that are packed with tiny animated details. The shift ability's spatial distortion effect looks neat, too.

Audio: Above Average

The sound effects are loud and plentiful, and the same can be said for the vocal effects. The trance-like music makes an unusual fit with the game's medieval fantasy world, but the energetic tunes certainly keep the blood pumping.

Overall: Above Average

Espgaluda is yet another character-focused space shooter by Cave. On one hand, its heroes pack one hell of a surprise, and its visuals continue to be impressive. On the other, its gameplay doesn't do anything really new. It's definitely worth seeing for those who can't get enough of Esprade, even if it doesn't match up to that classic in originality and creative charm.

Port: Above Average (PS2)

The PS2 version is very faithful to the arcade game, and, like the PS2 version of Dodonpachi: Daioujou, it contains some exclusive features. The most noticeable one is the arrange mode, where the default heroes are replaced by a new pair of playable characters, Chihiro and Black. These two can fire spreading secondary shots in addition to their standard shots, making them feel more like the heroes of Esprade. Unfortunately, the arrange mode is single-Player-only, and it doesn't allow continuing. (Ageha and Tateha have infinite credits in the arcade mode.) The arrange mode also has slightly remixed music. Finally, there is a gallery mode, which contains plenty of pretty concept art and other gorgeous images.

OST: Excellent

Published by Cave, the Espgaluda soundtrack contains all the music from the space shooter. It comes with four bonus tunes, three of which are remixes (of the second, third, and fourth stages' tunes). The last one is a bit more interesting, because it's a preview tune for the company's next game, Mushihimesama.

Those who are interested will also want to check out Dodonpachi: Daioujou and Espgaluda Perfect Remix. Published by Super Sweep, it's a compilation of the arranged soundtracks that are featured in the PS2 versions of those games. These arranged soundtracks, especially Daioujou's, don't differ much from the originals, which makes them a great choice for those who wish to enjoy both games' tunes together in a single package.

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